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Haleakala Rainforest Plants

Haleakala National Park

Facts About Haleakala
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© N.P.S.
Forest Canopy with Blooming 'Ohi'a - Metrosideros polymorpha
The most abundant and widespread native tree in the Hawaiian Islands, the 'ohi'a grows from near sea level to 8,000 feet in elevation and can grow to be 100 feet tall. The 'ohi'a tree is the first to appear on a fresh lava flow, and along with koa, is the primary canopy in Hawaiian rain forests. Hawaiians believe that forests of 'Ohi'a are sacred to Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. When angry, Pele destroys the 'Ohi'a with streams of lava. The bark produces a black dye, and tea can be brewed from the reddish leaves. 'Ohi'a blossoms are used in lei making.

© Ronald Nagata
'Ohi'a Lehua Blossom
'Ohi'a blossoms, called lehua, are usually red, but may be dull pink, yellow or orange. The blossom is a pompom shaped flower with colorful stamens and small inconspicuous petals. Native forest birds such as the 'apapane, 'amakihi and 'i'iwi are often found feeding on lehua nectar. The lehua is a proud symbol of the natural heritage of Hawaii and has a symbolic association with love for things such as family and friends. According to legend, if you pick a lehua blossom as you walk up the mountain it will surely rain.

© N.P.S.
Koa - Acacia koa
Koa is one of the best known native Hawaiian tree species. Approximately 50 species of endemic insects can live on the koa, never leaving these trees. Koa "leaves" are sickle shaped and are actually modified, flattened leaf stalks, not true leaves. The trunk is used for single and double-hulled canoes, paddles, weapons, ukulele and surfboards. A canoe 70 feet long, 3 feet wide and capable of carrying 70 people can be made from one large koa tree.

© N.P.S.
Hawaiian Rain Forest
Hawaiian rain forests typically occur at elevations between 1,350 and 6,300 feet. Lower areas are dominated by non-native vegetation, whereas more native vegetation occurs along ridges, higher gulches and near summits. Hawaiian rain forests are typically multi-layered with several tree, tree fern and shrub layers between the canopy and the ground. The rain forest canopy is dominated by 'Ohi'a, but koa is also very common. Most of the biological diversity in Hawaiian rain forests exists in the understory. Common understory vegetation includes tree ferns, vines, mosses and flowering plants. Hawaiian forests are threatened by feral animals such as pigs that uproot plants and by weeds such as guava, bamboo and kahili ginger that displace native species.

© N.P.S.
Native Rain Forest Flower - Thrematolobelia machrostachys
The Hawaiian name for this shrub is koli'i. Over one hundred different species of lobelias evolved from just a few ancestors that arrived in Hawaii millions of years ago. Lobelias are most commonly found in the rain forest. Most species of Hawaiian lobelias are declining and many are extinct. Decreasing numbers of pollinators, such as Hawaiian honeycreepers, depredation by feral pigs and alien plant invasions contribute to the declining numbers of these plants. Park fencing programs and removal of pigs help to restore habitat for these native shrubs.

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